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to count them, for the number was too great, and the birds rushed to
the entrance so thick as to baffle the attempt. I had scarcely returned
to Louisville, when a violent thunder-storm passed suddenly over the
town, and its appearance made me think that the hurry of the Swallows to
enter the tree was caused by their anxiety to avoid it. I thought of the
Swallows almost the whole night, so anxious had I become to ascertain
their number, before the time of their departure should arrive.

Next morning I rose early enough to reach the place long before the
least appearance of daylight, and placed my head against the tree. All
was silent within. I remained in that posture probably twenty minutes,
when suddenly I thought the great tree was giving way, and coming down
upon me. Instinctively I sprung from it, but when I looked up to it
again, what was my astonishment to see it standing as firm as ever. The
Swallows were now pouring out in a black continued stream. I ran back
to my post, and listened in amazement to the noise within, which I could
compare to nothing else than the sound of a large wheel revolving under
a powerful stream. It was yet dusky, so that I could hardly see the
hour on my watch, but I estimated the time which they took in getting
out at more than thirty minutes. After their departure, no noise was
heard within, and they dispersed in every direction with the quickness
of thought.

I immediately formed the project of examining the interior of the tree,
which, as my kind friend, Major CROGHAN, had told me, proved the most
remarkable I had ever met with. This I did, in company with a hunting
associate. We went provided with a strong line and a rope, the first
of which we, after several trials, succeeded in throwing across the
broken branch. Fastening the rope to the line we drew it up, and pulled
it over until it reached the ground again. Provided with the longest
cane we could find, I mounted the tree by the rope, without accident,
and at length seated myself at ease on the broken branch; but my labour
was fruitless, for I could see nothing through the hole, and the cane,
which was about fifteen feet long, touched nothing on the sides of the
tree within that could give any information. I came down fatigued and

The next day I hired a man, who cut a hole at the base of the tree. The
shell was only eight or nine inches thick, and the axe soon brought
the inside to view, disclosing a matted mass of exuviæ, with rotten
feathers reduced to a kind of mould, in which, however, I could perceive
fragments of insects and quills. I had a passage cleared, or rather
bored through this mass, for nearly six feet. This operation took up a
good deal of time, and knowing by experience that if the birds should
notice the hole below, they would abandon the tree, I had it carefully
closed. The Swallows came as usual that night, and I did not disturb
them for several days. At last, provided with a dark lantern, I went
with my companion about nine in the evening, determined to have a full
view of the interior of the tree. The hole was opened with caution. I
scrambled up the sides of the mass of exuviæ, and my friend followed.
All was perfectly silent. Slowly and gradually I brought the light
of the lantern to bear on the sides of the hole above us, when we saw
the Swallows clinging side by side, covering the whole surface of the
excavation. In no instance did I see one above another. Satisfied with
the sight, I closed the lantern. We then caught and killed with as much
care as possible more than a hundred, stowing them away in our pockets
and bosoms, and slid down into the open air. We observed that, while
on this visit, not a bird had dropped its dung upon us. Closing the
entrance, we marched towards Louisville perfectly elated. On examining
the birds which we had procured, a hundred and fifteen in number, we
found only six females. Eighty-seven were adult males; of the remaining
twenty-two the sex could not be ascertained, and I had no doubt that
they were young of that year's first brood, the flesh and quill-feathers
being tender and soft.

Let us now make a rough calculation of the number that clung to the
tree. The space beginning at the pile of feathers and moulded exuviæ,
and ending at the entrance of the hole above, might be fully 25 feet in
height, with a breadth of 15 feet, supposing the tree to be 5 feet in
diameter at an average. There would thus be 375 feet square of surface.
Each square foot, allowing a bird to cover a space of 3 inches by 1½,
which is more than enough, judging from the manner in which they were
packed, would contain 32 birds. The number of Swallows, therefore, that
roosted in this single tree was 9000.

I watched the motions of the Swallows, and when the young birds that
had been reared in the chimneys of Louisville, Jeffersonville, and the
houses of the neighbourhood, or the trees suited for the purpose, had
left their native recesses, I visited the tree on the 2d day of August.
I concluded that the numbers resorting to it had not increased; but I
found many more females and young than males, among upwards of fifty,
which were caught and opened. Day after day I watched the tree. On the
13th of August, not more than two or three hundred came there to roost.
On the 18th of the same month, not one did I see near it, and only a few
scattered individuals were passing, as if moving southward. In September
I entered the tree at night, but not a bird was in it. Once more I
went to it in February, when the weather was very cold; and perfectly
satisfied that all these Swallows had left our country, I finally closed
the entrance, and left off visiting it.

May arrived, bringing with its vernal warmth the wanderers of the air,
and I saw their number daily augmenting, as they resorted to the tree
to roost. About the beginning of June, I took it in my head to close
the aperture above, with a bundle of straw, which with a string I could
draw off whenever I might chuse. The result was curious enough; the
birds as usual came to the tree towards night; they assembled, passed
and repassed, with apparent discomfort, until I perceived many flying
off to a great distance, on which I removed the straw, when many entered
the hole, and continued to do so until I could no longer see them from
the ground.

I left Louisville, having removed my residence to Henderson, and did
not see the tree until five years after, when I still found the Swallows
resorting to it. The pieces of wood with which I had closed the entrance
had rotted, or had been carried off, and the hole was again completely
filled with exuviæ and mould. During a severe storm, their ancient
tenement at length gave way, and came to the ground.

General WILLIAM CLARK assured me that he saw this species on the whole
of his route to the Pacific, and there can be no doubt that in those
wilds it still breeds in trees or rocky caverns.

Its food consists entirely of insects, the pellets composed of the
indigestible parts of which it disgorges. It is, furnished with glands
which supply the unctuous matter with which it fastens its nest.

This species does not appear to extend its migrations farther east than
the British provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. It is unknown
in Newfoundland and Labrador; nor was it until the 29th of May that I
saw some at Eastport in Maine, where a few breed.

HIRUNDO PELASGIA, _Linn._ Syst. Nat. vol. i. p. 345.—_Lath._
Ind. Ornith. vol. ii. p. 581.

CYPSELUS PELASGIUS, _Ch. Bonaparte_, Synops. of Birds of the
United States, p. 63.

CHIMNEY SWALLOW, HIRUNDO PELASGIA, _Wils._ Amer. Ornith, vol. v.
p. 48. pl. 39. fig. 1.—_Nuttall_, Manual, p. 609.

Adult Male. Plate CLVIII. Fig. 1.

Bill extremely short, very broad at the base, with a very wide rictus,
compressed towards the tip; upper mandible bent towards the end, the
sides convex, the sharp edges inflected and having an indistinct sinus
near the tip; lower mandible nearly straight; gap line slightly arched.
Nostrils basal, approximate, oblong. Head large and depressed, neck
short, body slender. Feet extremely short and weak; tarsus rounded,
destitute of scutella; toes extremely short, the three anterior nearly
equal, each with only two joints, hind toe puny, with a much smaller
claw; claws strong, shortish, compressed, arched, very acute.

Plumage short, compact, rather blended, slightly glossed; wings extremely
elongated, falciform, quills narrow with excessively strong shafts, the
first longest. Tail of ten feathers, very short, slightly rounded, the
shaft of extraordinary strength, and projecting beyond the webs in the
form of a stiff prickle.

Bill black. Iris black. Feet dusky, with black claws. The general
colour is brownish-black, lighter on the rump, and with slight greenish
reflections on the head and back; the throat greyish-white, gradually
shaded into the greyish-brown colour of the under parts, which have a
peculiar grey and greenish lustre; the space from the eye to the bill
black; a greyish-white line over the eye.

Length 4¾ inches, extent of wings 12; bill along the back 2/12, along
the edge 7/12; tarsus 5/12.

Adult Female. Plate CLVIII. Fig. 2.

The Female is similar to the male.

Two views of the nest are also given in the plate.




In richness of plumage, elegance of motion, and strength of song, this
species surpasses all its kindred in the United States. It is known by
the names of Red Bird, Virginia Nightingale, Cardinal Bird, and that at
the head of the present article. It is very abundant in all our Southern
States, as well as in the peninsula of the Floridas. In the western
country a great number are found as far up on the Ohio as the city of
Cincinnati, and they extend to considerable distances into Indiana,
Illinois and Missouri. They are found in the maritime districts of
Pennsylvania and New Jersey, where they breed, and where a few remain
the whole year; some are also seen in the State of New York, and now
and then a straggler proceeds into Massachusetts; but farther eastward
this species has never been observed.

This fine songster relishes the interior of the forest, and the heart of
the deepest cane-brakes or retired swamps, as well as the neighbourhood
of cities. It is constantly found in our fields, orchards and gardens;
nay, it often enters the very streets of our southern towns and villages
to breed; and it is rare that one goes into a planter's yard without
observing the Red Bird skipping about the trees or on the turf beneath
them. Go where it may, it is always welcome, and every where a favourite,
so rich is its song, and so brilliant its plumage.

The Cardinal Bird breeds in the Floridas. In the beginning of March I
found them already paired in that country, and on the 8th of February
near General HERNANDEZ'S. In the neighbourhood of Charleston, as well
as in Louisiana, they are nearly a month later, and much the same lapse
of time takes place again before they form a nest in the State of New
Jersey or in that of Kentucky.

The nest is placed, apparently without much consideration, in some low
briar, bush, or tree, often near the fence, the middle of a field, or
the interior of a thicket, not far from a cooling stream, to which they
are fond of resorting, for the purpose of drinking and bathing. Sometimes
you find it placed close to the planter's house or in his garden, a few
yards from that of the Mocking Bird or the Thrasher. It is composed of
dry leaves and twigs, together with a large proportion of dry grass and
slips of grape-vines, and is finished within with bent-grass, wrought in
a circular form. The eggs are from four to six, of a dull white colour,
marked all over with touches of olive-brown.

In the Southern Districts they now and then raise three broods in the
season, but in the Middle States seldom more than one. The young on
leaving the nest, frequently follow their parents on the ground for
several days, after which they disperse and seek for food apart. During
the pairing season, the males are so pugnacious, that although they breed
near birds of other species, they never allow one of their own to nestle
in their vicinity. One male may be seen following another from bush to
bush, emitting a shrill note of anger, and diving towards the fugitive
antagonist whenever an opportunity offers, until the latter has escaped
quite beyond his jurisdiction, when the conqueror, elated, returns to
his grounds, ascends his favourite tree, and pours out his song in full

Those which migrate to the eastward begin to move about the commencement
of March, usually in the company of the Towhe Bunting and other Sparrows,
hopping and passing from bush to bush during the whole day, announcing to
the traveller and husbandman the approach of a more genial season, and
resting at night in the secluded swamps. The males precede the females
about ten days.

Towards autumn they frequently ascend to the tops of tall trees in search
of grapes and berries, being as fond of succulent or pulpy fruits as they
are of the seeds of corn and grasses. On the least appearance of danger
they at once glide into the interior of the nearest thickets. During the
summer heats they frequently resort to sandy roads to dust themselves,
carelessly suffering people to approach them until within a few yards,
when they only remove to the nearest bushes, until the intruders pass.

They are easily raised when taken from the nest, and breed when kept
in aviaries. My friend Dr SAMUEL WILSON of Charleston, has had them
breeding with him, having placed straw-baskets for the purpose, in which
the female deposited her eggs, without improving the nest any more than
by placing in it a few grass blades, perhaps pilfered from some of her
neighbours. The purity of its colouring is soon lost when it is kept in
confinement, where it is gentle, easily fed on corn or hemp-seed, and
it sings when placed in a cage for several months in the year.

During winter the Cardinal Grosbeak frequently shews itself in the
farm-yard, among Turtle-Doves, Jays, Mocking-Birds, and various species
of Sparrows, picking up its food from the store daily supplied to
the poultry. It now and then seeks refuge at night in the lee of some
hay-stack, or throws itself with many other birds among the thickest
branches of the nearest evergreen tree.

The flight of this species is strong and rapid, although seldom continued
to any great distance. It is performed by glidings and jerks of the tail.
When the bird is alighted it also frequently juts its tail with grace.
Like all birds of the genus it hops, but does not walk.

Its song is at first loud and clear, resembling the finest sounds
produced by the flageolet, and gradually descends into more marked and
continued cadences, until it dies away in the air around. During the
love-season the song is emitted with increased emphasis by this proud
musician, who, as if aware of his powers, swells his throat, spreads
his rosy tail, droops his wings, and leans alternately to the right and
left, as if on the eve of expiring with delight at the delicious sounds
of his own voice. Again and again are those melodies repeated, the bird
resting only at intervals to breathe. They may be heard from long before
the sun gilds the eastern horizon, to the period when the blazing orb
pours down its noonday floods of heat and light, driving the birds to
the coverts to seek repose for a while. Nature again invigorated, the
musician recommences his song, when, as if he had never strained his
throat before, he makes the whole neighbourhood resound, nor ceases
until the shades of evening close around him. Day after day the song of
the Red Bird beguiles the weariness of his mate as she assiduously warms
her eggs; and at times she also assists with the modesty of her gentler
sex. Few individuals of our own race refuse their homage of admiration
to the sweet songster. How pleasing is it, when, by a clouded sky, the
woods are rendered so dark, that were it not for an occasional glimpse
of clearer light falling between the trees, you might imagine night at
hand, while you are yet far distant from your home—how pleasing to have
your ear suddenly saluted by the well known notes of this favourite bird,
assuring you of peace around, and of the full hour that still remains
for you to pursue your walk in security! How often have I enjoyed this
pleasure, and how often, in due humbleness of hope, do I trust that I
may enjoy it again!

I have represented a pair of these beautiful birds on a branch of the
Wild Olive.

FRINGILLA CARDINALIS, _Ch. Bonaparte_, Synops. of Birds of
the United States, p. 113.

vol. ii. p. 38. pl. 2. fig. 1. Male; fig. 2. Female.—_Nuttall_,
Manual, p. 519.

Adult Male. Plate CLIX. Fig. 1.

Bill short, very robust, conical, acute, deeper than broad at the base;
upper mandible with its dorsal outline a little convex, the sides rounded,
the edges sharp and inflected, the tip slightly declinate; lower mandible
broader than the upper, with its dorsal line straight, the back broad,
the sides rounded, the edges inflected; the gap-line deflected at the
base. Nostrils basal, roundish, concealed by the feathers. Head large,
neck short, body robust. Legs of moderate length, rather strong; tarsus
compressed, anteriorly covered with a few scutella, posteriorly sharp;
toes scutellate above, free, the lateral ones nearly equal; claws slender,
arched, compressed, acute, that of the hind toe considerably larger.

Plumage soft and blended, slightly glossed. Wings of moderate length,
broad, much rounded, the fourth quill longest; primaries rather broad,
rounded, from the second to the sixth slightly cut out on the outer web,
secondaries rather narrow and rounded. Tail long, straight, rounded.
Feathers of the crown long, pointed, and erectile.

Bill of a tint approaching to coral-red. Iris dark hazel. Feet pale umber.
The whole upper parts of a deep dusky-red, excepting the head which is
vermillion. The anterior part of the forehead, the lores, and the upper
anterior part of the neck, black. The under parts are vermillion, which
is brightest anteriorly. Inner webs of the quills light brown, their
shafts and those of the tail-feathers blackish-brown.

Length 8¼ inches, extent of wings 11½; bill along the back 7/12, along
the edge ¾; tarsus 1½/12.

Adult Female. Plate CLIX. Fig. 2.

The female has a crest as well as the male, which it resembles in the
texture of its plumage, but the tail is proportionally shorter. The
general colour of the upper parts is dull greyish-brown slightly tinged
with olive; the longer crest-feathers are streaked with dull red, the
wings, coverts, and outer edges of the quills, are of the same tint;
the edge of the wings and the lower coverts are pale vermillion, and
the inner edges of the quills are of the same tint, but paler. The
parts surrounding the base of the bill, which are black in the male,
are blackish-grey, and the lower parts in general are pale greyish-brown.

Length 7½ inches.


PRUNUS CAROLINIANA, _Willd._ Sp. Pl. vol. ii. p. 987. _Pursh_,
Fl. Amer. Sept. vol. i. p. 330.—ICOSANDRIA MONOGYNIA, _Linn._
ROSACEÆ, _Juss._

Flowers in racemes; leaves evergreen, oblong-lanceolate, mucronate,
serrate, without glands at the base. The Wild Almond is altogether a
southern tree. Its height now and then is as much as twenty-five feet,
the stem in that case being a foot or more in diameter. The usual rounded
form of its top, and the persistence of its foliage, together with its
white flowers, and dark coloured fruits, render it a very agreeable
object. Many are planted around the plantation grounds or the gardens of
our southern cities, on account of their beautiful appearance. The fruits
are greedily devoured by many species of birds, but are unpalatable to
man. I have not observed it to the east of Virginia, nor farther west
than the town of Memphis on the Mississippi. The wood is seldom applied
to any useful purpose.




It was not until some time after my drawing of this small southern
species of Titmouse had been engraved and distributed among my patrons,
that I discovered the difference as to size and habits between it and
the one which inhabits the Middle and Northern States, and which has
been so well described by WILSON, NUTTALL and SWAINSON. Indeed, I never
was struck with the difference of size until I reached Eastport in the
State of Maine, early in May 1833, when one morning my friend Lieutenant
GREEN of the United States army entered my room and shewed me a Titmouse
which he had just procured. The large size of his bird, compared with
those met with in the south, instantly struck me.

On my return from Labrador, I immediately proceeded to Charleston in
South Carolina, with a view of once more visiting the western portions
of the Floridas and the whole coast of the Gulf of Mexico. In the course
of conversation with my friend, the Reverend JOHN BACHMAN, I mentioned
my ideas on the subject of Titmice, when he immediately told me that he
had for some time been of the same mind. We both went to the woods, and
procured some specimens. I wrote to several persons of my acquaintance
in Massachusetts, Maine, and Maryland, and before a month had elapsed,
I received an abundant supply of the Northern species, preserved in
spirits, from my friend JOHN BETHUNE of Boston, Lieutenant GREEN, and
Colonel THEODORE ANDERSON of Baltimore. We examined and compared many
individuals of both species, and satisfied ourselves that they were
indeed specifically distinct.

The new species, the Carolina Titmouse, is a constant inhabitant of
the Southern States, in which I have traced it from the lower parts
of Louisiana through the Floridas as far as the borders of the Roanoke
River, which separates North Carolina from Virginia, when it altogether
disappeared. In these countries it is found only in the immediate
vicinity of ponds and deep marshy and moist swamps, rarely during winter
in greater numbers than one pair together, and frequently singly. The
parent birds separate from the young probably soon after the latter
are able to provide for themselves. The other species moves in flocks
during the whole winter, frequenting the orchards, the gardens, or the
hedges and trees along the roads, entering the villages, and coming to
the woodpiles of the farmers. The southern species is never met with in
such places at any time of the year, and is at all seasons a shyer bird,
and more difficult to be obtained. Its notes are also less sonorous,
and less frequent, than those of the Titmouse found in the Middle and
Northern Districts.

My friend JOHN BACHMAN is of opinion that the smaller species particularly
retires from South Carolina during winter, in consequence of the small
number met with there at that season. On referring to my journals,
written in the Floridas, in the winter of 1831-32, I find that they
are mentioned as being much more abundant than in the Carolinas, and as
breeding in the swamps as early as the middle of February.

The Carolina Titmouse breeds in the holes abandoned by the Brown-headed
Nuthatch; but I have not yet examined either its eggs or its nest, having
at first carelessly supposed the bird to be identical with the northern
species, as my predecessors had done.

My drawing of the Carolina Titmouse was made not far from New Orleans
late in 1820. I have named it so, partly because it occurs in Carolina,
and partly because I was desirous of manifesting my gratitude towards the
citizens of that State, who by their hospitality and polite attention
have so much contributed to my comfort and happiness, whenever it has
been my good fortune to be among them.


Adult Male. Plate CLX. Fig. 1.

Bill very short, straight, strong, compressed, rather obtuse; both
mandibles with the dorsal outline slightly convex, the sides convex,
the edges sharp. Nostrils basal, roundish, concealed by the recumbent
feathers. Head large, neck short, body rather robust. Feet of ordinary
length, rather robust; tarsus compressed, anteriorly scutellate; toes
large, the three anterior united as far as the second joint, the hind
one much stronger; claws rather large, compressed, arched, acute.

Online LibraryJohn James AudubonOrnithological Biography, Volume 2 (of 5) → online text (page 33 of 56)